What’s the best way to keep my hedges healthy?

If you love your garden but need advice on how to keep it looking lush and welcoming all year round, top head gardener Tom Brown can help. In this regular column he demystifies common gardening problems, explains what to tackle when, and shows how to make every moment on the plot more fun and productive. Happy gardening!  What’s the best way to keep my hedges healthy?


What is the best way to keep a hedge healthy?

The main reason for planting a hedge may be to mark a boundary, but it is a multifunctional feature that is just as deserving of our time as the rest of the garden. Not only does it provide shelter and habitat for wildlife, it is also far more interesting to look at than fence panels.

If you have recently planted a hedge with young plants, keep them well-watered for the first few years, especially during dry spells, to allow the roots to develop. This means that the hedge will be more self-sufficient in future.

Giving plants a good soak occasionally will saturate the ground and encourage deeper rooting, whereas regular, lighter watering will encourage vulnerable surface roots and use more water than infrequent soakings. Grey water is perfectly adequate to get a hedge established and don’t forget to use those rainwater butts that we’ve all recently installed.

When it comes to creating a dense hedge, young evergreen hedges need regular tip removal (by clipping or electric trimmer) to encourage bushy growth. In contrast, deciduous hedges need their main growing tip removed each spring for the first few years of growth by around a third to encourage more branching.

Be sure to feed hedges each spring with fish, blood and bone or Growmore to promote strong growth and better establishment. Eliminate competition by removing weeds from around the base and then mulch the roots with garden compost or well-rotted manure.

It is also possible to rejuvenate an overgrown hedge: beech, hornbeam and laurel respond well to drastic pruning and reshaping in late winter. But avoid major pruning and trimming from March to August in order to protect nesting birds that share our gardens.

If you are planning a new hedge, here are a few plant suggestions. For an evergreen hedge, consider planting Berberis x stenophylla, Elaeagnus x ebbingei, Escallonia ‘Iveyi’ and yew (Taxus baccata).

Deciduous hedges lose their leaves during winter, but the structure of the hedge will still provide a barrier and wildlife habitat. Try Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’, hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), beech (Fagus sylvatica), Fuchsia magellanica and Rosa rugosa.

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